Coun­try split on asy­lum seek­ers: poll

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - MICHELLE ZILIO With a re­port from The Cana­dian Press

Nanos sur­vey shows Cana­di­ans evenly di­vided on best course of ac­tion as unau­tho­rized cross­ings from the United States in­crease

More than 12,000 asy­lum seek­ers have crossed into Canada at a sin­gle un­of­fi­cial cross­ing point along the Que­bec-United States bor­der this year, sur­pass­ing the prov­ince’s ex­pec­ta­tions for all of 2017.

The num­bers come as a new sur­vey shows that Cana­di­ans are equally di­vided over whether the coun­try should wel­come asy­lum seek­ers from the United States or close its bor­ders to them. A Nanos poll found that more than one-third of Cana­di­ans – 37 per cent – say Canada should wel­come asy­lum seek­ers from the United States, while the same per­cent­age of re­spon­dents think Canada should close its bor­ders; 26 per cent were un­sure.

“There’s very few times that Cana­di­ans are so evenly di­vided on an is­sue,” poll­ster Nik Nanos said.

“This is a recipe for a con­tin­ued and pro­longed de­bate about what to do when peo­ple show up at the Cana­dian bor­der and ask for asy­lum.”

The in­flux in unau­tho­rized cross­ings at un­mon­i­tored parts of the bor­der be­gan last win­ter in Man­i­toba and Que­bec, when hun­dreds of asy­lum seek­ers braved bit­terly cold tem­per­a­tures to seek refuge. By July, 7,500 had en­tered this way across Canada; 6,500 of those crossed in Que­bec. That num­ber for the prov­ince nearly dou­bled to 12,000 over the past month, sur­pass­ing the to­tal num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers Que­bec Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Kath­leen Weil was ex­pect­ing for the whole year. Au­gust fig­ures for other parts of Canada were not avail­able as of Thurs­day.

Most of those com­ing to Que­bec have crossed at Saint-Bernard-de-La­colle, which is along the bor­der with New York State, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale’s of­fice. An­other 1,100 peo­ple crossed out­side of Que­bec by July.

Be­tween 80 per cent and 85 per cent of those who crossed at La­colle are Haitians who fear be­ing ex­pelled un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to end a pro­gram in Jan­uary, 2018, that granted them tem­po­rary pro­tected status (TPS) af­ter the mas­sive 2010 earth­quake in the im­pov­er­ished Caribbean coun­try. Thou­sands of pan­icked Haitians headed north to Que­bec af­ter mis­in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia sug­gested Canada would ac­cept them as refugees.

Last month, the gov­ern­ment dis­patched Haitian-Cana­dian MP Em­manuel Dubourg to Mi­ami in a bid to cor­rect that im­pres­sion. Mr. Dubourg met with lo­cal elected of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity lead­ers and Cana­dian, Haitian and U.S. me­dia.

Pro­tected status in the United States is set to ex­pire over the next year for cit­i­zens from nine other coun­tries: El Sal­vador, Hon­duras, Nepal, Nicaragua, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, South Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men. There is con­cern that Cen­tral Amer­i­cans will be the next group of asy­lum seek­ers to flood the Cana­dian bor­der as a re­sult. The Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice es­ti­mates that 195,000 Sal­vado­rans, 57,000 Hon­durans and 2,550 Nicaraguans live in the United States un­der TPS.

In an ef­fort to de­ter them from head­ing north, Lib­eral MP Pablo Ro­driguez trav­elled to Los An­ge­les last week to make the rounds with me­dia and lo­cal of­fi­cials, mem­bers of the Latino com­mu­nity and the Hon­duran, Sal­vado­ran and Nicaraguan con­sul-gen­er­als. Mr. Ro­driguez, born in Ar­gentina, con­ducted most of his meet­ings in Span­ish. He said he was able to cor­rect some of the myths cir­cu­lat­ing in Span­ish­language me­dia.

“The story we heard most of­ten from these in­di­vid­u­als was that they had heard that Canada had a spe­cial pro­gram for those who might lose their TPS status,” Mr. Ro­driguez said. “We went to great lengths to en­sure that these in­di­vid­u­als un­der­stood that no such pro­gram ex­isted and that, in or­der to im­mi­grate to Canada, the proper rules and pro­cesses had to be fol­lowed.”

An­gela Ven­tura of the El Sal­vador As­so­ci­a­tion of Wind­sor said she has seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of re­cent calls and e-mails from Sal­vado­rans in the United States in­quir­ing about asy­lum in Canada.

“If some­body asks for an inquiry about Canada, I will say that it’s not wise just to cross the bor­der the way [Haitians] are cross­ing right now, be­cause it’s risky. Maybe their [asy­lum] cases aren’t strong enough.”

In re­sponse to the re­cent surge in asy­lum seek­ers, Ot­tawa pro­vided ad­di­tional pro­cess­ing re­sources in Que­bec and es­tab­lished a new fed­eral-pro­vin­cial task force, chaired by Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau, on the mat­ter. The gov­ern­ment is also us­ing its so­cial-me­dia chan­nels, in­clud­ing those of its con­sulates in the United States, to set the record straight about Canada’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

The Nanos poll, con­ducted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, sur­veyed 1,000 Cana­di­ans by phone and on­line, with a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.1 per­cent­age points, 19 times out of 20.

CHARLES KRUPA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Haitian fam­ily ap­proaches a tent set up by the RCMP on the bor­der be­tween Cham­plain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-La­colle, Que., to process ar­riv­ing asy­lum seek­ers on Sept. 7.

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